Research on Mindfulness and Learning

This page summarizes research on the benefits of mindfulness, including neuroscience, the latest scientific studies, and specific benefits for students and educators.

Mindfulness Training leads to structural changes in the brain that develop and enhance the qualities including kindness, patience and compassion; in addition to increasing executive function and improving impulse control.


Research has found that mindfulness practices can be an effective method of treating anxiety, stress, and depression.

How Meditation Changes The Brain

Research

Amygdala

Aroused when detecting and reacting to emotions, especially difficult or strong emotions such as fear. This part of the brain is less activated1 and has less gray matter density2 following mindfulness training.

Hippocampus

Critical to learning and memory, and helps regulate the Amygdala. This part of the brain is more active4 and has more gray matter density3 following mindfulness training.

Prefrontal Cortex

The part of the brain most associated with maturity, including regulating emotions and behaviors and making wise decisions. This part of the brain is more activated following mindfulness training.5

Social:

EMOTIONAL REGULATION

Mindfulness is associated with emotion regulation across a number of studies6. Mindfulness creates changes in the brain that correspond to less reactivity7, and better ability to engage in tasks even when emotions are activated.8

COMPASSION

People randomly assigned to mindfulness training are more likely to help someone in need9 and have greater self-compassion.10

INCREASED SELF-CONFIDENCE16

Health:

CALMING

Studies find that mindfulness reduces feelings of stress11 and improves anxiety and distress when placed in a stressful social situation.12

Boosts Your Immunity

Reduces the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Reduces Physical Pain

Educational:

IMPROVES TEST SCORES

Improves children’s math scores

REDUCES SYMPTOMS

Reduces ADHD symptoms and symptoms of other learning disorders13

40% reduction in psychological distress, including stress, anxiety and depression15

References

1.) Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 163–169.

Desbordes, G., Negi, L. T., Pace, T. W., Wallace, B. A., Raison, C. L., & Schwartz, E. L. (2012). Effects of mindful-­attention and compassion meditation training on Amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-­meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6.

2.) Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Evans, K. C., Hoge, E. A., Dusek, J. A., Morgan, L., … Lazar, S. W. (2010). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5(1), 11–17.

3.) Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-­based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83.

4.) Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36–43.

5.) 14 Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicine, 40(08), 1239–1252.

6.) 3 Roemer, L., Williston, S. K., & Rollins, L. G. (2015). Mindfulness and emotion regulation. Current Opinion in Psychology, 3, 52–57.

7.) Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-­based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83.

8.) Ortner, C. N., Kilner, S. J., & Zelazo, P. D. (2007). Mindfulness meditation and reduced emotional interference on a cognitive task. Motivation and Emotion, 31(4), 271–283.

9.) 6 Condon, P., Desbordes, G., Miller, W. B., & DeSteno, D. (2013). Meditation increases compassionate responses to suffering. Psychological Science, 24(10), 2125–2127.

10.) Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. E. (2010). Exploring self-­compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness-­based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26(5), 359–371.

Neff, K. D., & Germer, C. K. (2013). A Pilot Study and Randomized Controlled Trial of the Mindful Self-­Compassion Program. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(1), 28–44.

Shapiro, S. L., Brown, K. W., & Biegel, G. M. (2007). Teaching self-­care to caregivers: effects of mindfulness-­based stress reduction on the mental health of therapists in training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 1(2), 105.

11.) Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-­based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: a review and meta-­analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5), 593–600.
Pbert, L., Madison, J. M., Druker, S., Olendzki, N., Magner, R., Reed, G., … Carmody, J. (2012). Effect of mindfulness training on asthma quality of life and lung function: a randomised controlled trial. Thorax, 67(9), 769–776.

12.) Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Marques, L., Metcalf, C. A., Morris, L. K., Robinaugh, D. J., … Simon, N. M. (2013). Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(8), 786–792.

13.) Mind & Brain: The Journal of Psychiatry 2 (1): 73-81, 2011

15.) American Journal of Hypertension 22(12): 1326-1331, 2009

16.) Journal of Social Behavior and Personality 6 (1991): 189–247.
Higher Stages of Human Development: Perspectives on Adult Growth (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 286–341

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